Pakistan must boost its efforts to protect the human rights of its citizens, a top United Nations official said today, calling on the Government to pass legislation on crucial issues such as torture, education and women’s rights.
“All rights should be available to all people in Pakistan, irrespective of their gender, religion, social group or any other consideration,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said at a press conference in Islamabad, the capital. “Pakistan has made some advances in this respect, but has a long way to go in other areas.”
Ms. Pillay, who wrapped up a four-day visit, stressed that the country’s commitment to universal primary education must be accompanied by a reform in the school curricula to better promote tolerance and human rights, in particular with regard to religious and other minorities.
“The Government has informed me that it is undertaking a study to identify elements in the school curricula which incite discrimination against particular religious groups and minorities,” she said. “Other forms of entrenched institutional discrimination – with the Ahmadis [a Muslim minority group] particularly badly affected – need to be tackled at the legislative, administrative and social levels.”
Ms. Pillay also emphasized that despite recent advances, the overall picture of women’s rights in the country, especially in rural areas, remains grim. She pointed to a case in Kohistan, where five women were sentenced to death by a local jirga last week for dancing at a wedding.
“The full facts of this case remain to be established, but the allegations are illustrative of the type of restrictions and dangers many Pakistani women have to face, and how much further they have to go before they enjoy the fundamental freedoms to which they are entitled,” she said.
In addition, she noted that the case points to another issue in the country which is the existence of parallel justice systems such as the jirga, where key protections contained in the Constitution do not apply.
“I welcome the fact that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has observed that jirgas are illegal, and also commend its decision to take swift and decisive action to get to the bottom of what precisely happened to the five women in Kohistan,” Ms. Pillay said.
The human rights chief also said she was please by the Government’s assurance that a draft law on torture is close to completion and could be adopted by the national assembly in just three months.
“This is very welcome news since it is essential that a clear definition of torture and the fact that it is a crime under any circumstance must be enshrined in national law if the practice is to be eradicated.”
Ms. Pillay also welcomed the country’s adoption of a law to establish a National Human Rights Commission last week, and urged Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to ensure an open and transparent process to appoint commissioners, and reiterated her office’s readiness to assist the country in its efforts to protect and promote the rights of its citizens.
During her visit to Islamabad, and the city of Lahore, Ms. Pillay met with Mr. Gilani, as well as other Government officials, civil society organizations, journalists and lawyers.